Fighting back tears, it’s the anger in June Taylor’s voice that keeps her speaking as she talks about Afterlife.co — a website that take obituaries from publications and uses them to sell add-on services.
She was distraught when she heard about the obituary of her daughter, Tanya Taylor, who died in August of last year, being posted on the website, which offers the purchase of flowers or virtual candles in the person’s memory.
“It just blew me away. I just froze when I saw it, knowing a businessperson somewhere was taking advantage of my deceased daughter to make money,” Taylor said.
She had a neighbour contact the website, and her daughter’s obituary has been taken down, she said.
Taylor said she lost both her children to cancer — Bruce at age 15 and Tanya at 43.
“That’s devastating enough. I don’t need a stranger using my daughter’s name to make money. It’s horrible, just horrible,” she said.
Taylor said she is aware of three people in her community on that website and many others throughout the province.
“They’re breaking the law and should be stopped,” she said of Afterlife.co.
Taylor was made aware that a lawyer in St. John’s, Erin Best, who specializes in intellectual property, is working on it and it was suggested she could contact her.
As reported by The Telegram, Best says the rights to an obituary belong to the author, and websites that copy obituaries without permission are infringing on copyright.
“There’s no question — they can’t cut and paste them word for word, Best says. “It’s the same as if you wrote a short story, essentially.”
Best says the factual information in an obituary can be copied because facts are not protected by copyright. However, to copy an obituary verbatim — as in the case of the Afterlife website — is copyright infringement.
The only legal way to copy a work that is protected by copyright is if it passes the fair dealing test. One way in which copying an obituary would fail the fair dealing test is if there is a commercial aspect.
Best said if somebody cuts and pastes that into another website for the purposes of selling something, that would be a breach of copyright.
Taylor said if she wanted to order flowers or candles, she would do it on her own, not though an online service.
As for hiring a lawyer, it’s not affordable to her, especially after spending thousands of dollars on her daughter’s funeral.
“Really, I almost took a heart attack when I learned of my daughter’s obituary on the website. This set me right clean off,” Taylor said.
She hopes that by speaking out, other people will check to see of their loved ones are on the website and, if so, contact them to have it taken down like her friend did for her.